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As one of the first of its kind, Herding Cats expands the boundaries of theatre by being a piece that has actors performing from the other side of the globe. The play, written by Lucinda Coxon and directed by Anthony Banks, is playing at Soho Theatre for four nights only before becoming a streamed performance for its American audience.
Herding Cats welcomes us into the lives of Michael (Jassa Ahluwalia) and Justine (Sophie Melville) — two flatmates who are bracing themselves for the ups and downs of adult life. Equipped with a football table and a kitchen that has been the centre point of their best and worst moments, they support each other in tough times. Justine is working night and day for a big company and finds herself entangled in a kindling romance with her co-worker. And Michael is earning his money working from home as a call girl — yes, girl.
The play takes us along on the whirlwind of events that the two flatmates are experiencing. Justine’s office romance with the ‘very important’ new co-worker, and Michael’s telephone engagement with paedophiles and all sorts of questionable people are just some of the things that are going on in their day-to-day life. We follow them along as their flatmate-ship is put to a real test and they keep finding themselves looking for answers in the other person.
Where the original script tries to ask poignant questions such as ‘what happens when you ignore your work-life balance’ and ‘how far would you go for your job’, the two main actors are oblivious of those moments. Melville manages to outplay Ahluwalia in almost every scene with her overenthusiastic and chaotic interpretation of a modern woman. Halfway through it seems to have clicked and we can see Melville becoming almost comfortable in her role, whereas Ahluwalia stays detached throughout. Disappointingly, this leads to a lack of chemistry and entertainment. Noteworthy, however, is Greg Germann as paedophilic Saddo with an unhealthy fascination with torture devices. His chilling and distressing performance will haunt me for days to come.
Soho Theatre’s Herding Cats is trying very hard to be a hip and upbeat piece about modern life in the workplace when it could be thought-provoking and relevant instead. The flashing lights, loud music, and Christmas carols, unfortunately, do not help in this endeavour (and neither do unnecessarily abrupt scene changes). And although the actors (and the stage designer) utilise the space with conviction, it fails to become the supporting flatshare it is intended to be. Herding Cats is noisy, chaotic, and deeply disturbing with a lack of purpose which even the occasional chuckle can’t revoke.
Herding Cats is playing at the Soho Theatre until 22 May 2021. For more information and tickets visit Soho Theatre online.